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There (in exile) you will serve gods made by Man out of wood and stone, which do not see, hear, eat or inhale. From there you will seek G-d and you will find him, because you sought him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress (batzar lecha) and all these things have happened to you… you return to G-d… and obey His voice… (4:28-30).
Moses assures the Israelites that G-d will be there when they turn to Him, even when they have been dispersed into exile for their sins. However this seems to contradict the words that G-d spoke to Moses before his death:
G-d said to Moses: "Behold, you will lie with your forefathers, but this people will… stray after foreign gods… and they will forsake Me and annul My covenant which I have sealed with them. My anger will flare against them on that day. I shall forsake them. I will hide My face from them… and many evils and troubles will fall on them… and they will say on that day, "Is it because G-d is not in (our) midst that these evils have befallen (us)?" But I will hide My face on that day because of all the evil that (they) did, because (they) turned to the gods of others" (31:16-18).
Here it seems that He will not be found when the Israelites turn to Him, after having worshipped idols.
A more detailed study of the two verses may help to explain the apparent contradiction.
1. The passage in this Parasha specifies that the idols worshipped will be made out of wood and stone. Rav Z. Z. Breuer (Siach Ha-Shulchan, p.179) says this means that the Israelites will repent as they eventually realize the futility of an idol worship that has no power to deliver. This idea may be extended in the following way. Wood and stone symbolize homes, security, wealth, and prestige, The Israelites, said Moses, will work hard to obtain wealth in the Golah. And they will succeed. But they will not be satisfied. In their wealth they will find a deep desire to return to Him. The words "batzar lecha" could therefore be translated literally - not meaning "trouble", but "narrow" - when all their wealth and achievements have been too "narrow" - spritually inadequate, leaving a strong desire to return to Him. Thus the motive of return is yirat ha-romemut - fear of G-d, meaning respect for Him in the sincere realization that He is the Creator and Master of the Universe - and that they cannot reach fulfillment without Him.
2. By contrast, the passage in Parashat Vayelech does not specify any details about the gods worshipped - it states foreign gods - all types of idol worship. In addition G-d refers to a lower form of Teshuva - yirat ha-onesh - turning to Him solely out of fear of Divine suffering and retribution.
These passages show that genuine repentance involves returning to G-d in the sprit of Jethro, who exclaimed: Now I know that G-d is greater than all other gods (Shemot 18:11) - Chazal bring the tradition that he saw the truth in the Almighty, after having realized the folly of Avoda Zara.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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